Unite Walnut Hills with artistic community events


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CINCINNATI – Summer vacation has just started, but Josh Jones, a 16-year-old student of Purcell Marian, isn’t lounging by the pool or playing video games.

Instead, this enterprising teenager gives back to his homeland, Walnut Hills, by hosting a photoshoot where anyone in the neighborhood can sit down for free family portraits.

The event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at Five Points Alley (behind Gomez Salsa at 2437 Gilbert Ave.) and has something for all the senses, including free snacks from OCD Cakes, crafts from Indigo Hippo and live local music.

(Left to right) Kelsey Kinnemeyer, Sharee Allen and Josh Jones prepare for a free portrait of Commensal Cincinnati at Five Points Alley in Walnut Hills.

“We want everyone to feel welcome in our neighborhood,” Jones said. “I grew up in this neighborhood. I saw it fall and… I really want to see it come back up. I see a lot of redevelopment in this neighborhood, and one of my ideas was to put up something where I can. bring the neighborhood together.

Jones took his idea to Commensal Cincinnati, a loose organization founded in April to empower neighborhoods by combining people’s “time, talent and treasure” in storytelling, art and food projects.

“One of the things we try to do is cultivate connection, compassion and community within these neighborhoods where there may already be tension or where people don’t really have a chance to come together. with someone who may have a different value or where they may be different from each other, ”said Kelsey Kinnemeyer.

She’s an interior designer who quit her job at a local architectural firm to bring together what she calls Commensal’s “Brain Trust”, a group of around 10 people working on the project.

They chose Walnut Hills to “run on energy” from organizations like the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and Cincy Stories, which are already working to bridge the gaps in the neighborhood.

“Even Stevie Wonder can see that Walnut Hills is the new OTR,” Commensal member Sharee Allen said, citing an idea she recently heard from a Walnut Hills resident. “So it’s just a matter of making sure that when new businesses move into the community, we do so responsibly and with consideration for everyone who already lives here. “

Allen (left) checks light levels on his camera with Kinnemeyer and Jones at Five Points Alley.

Allen, art therapist and photographer, is concerned that economically disadvantaged members of the diverse Walnut Hills neighborhood are being evicted as upscale apartments, bars and restaurants appear. She hopes Commensal can help developers, builders and community members “break bread” at the same table to prevent gentrification.

And that’s where Jones stepped in as Commensal’s “community liaison” by suggesting the portrait project and helping to attract local families.

“We were watching a movie in class and this man was doing portraits of the homeless. And one thing I wanted to do, as a spin-off of his idea, was do it for everyone – not just the homeless or the mentally ill, ”Jones said.

He wants to give hope to families in the neighborhood who may not have the means to hire a professional photographer for the portraits.

All participating families will receive free digital copies of their portraits, but Commensal will also be accepting donations to help those who cannot afford to get an 8×10 inch print at $ 5 each. Prints can be picked up from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 30 at the Cincy Stories Gallery at 961 E. McMillan St., where an artist research project that Commensal helped lead will have its final showcase.

Aprina Johnson of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation led the project, which examines how segregation, class and racial discrimination have affected the neighborhood’s cultural makeup.

Kinnemeyer said that Commensal is currently working on inexpensive events that don’t require large monetary donations, but instead ask people to donate their time and talent. Jones sets the bar high for future volunteers as he has filmed videos for his football team, founded the Purcell Marian Photography Club, and started his own photography business, Studio Editz.

Commensal Cincinnati will eventually apply for grants through ArtWorks or a local business accelerator, as Kinnemeyer said he plans to expand this year.

“Price Hill is going to be our next goal, so we’ll probably spend a few more months in Walnut Hills before moving to Price Hill,” Kinnemeyer said. “Then we have a few other neighborhoods like the West End and Mount Auburn on our list as well that we would like to address.”

Keep an eye on the Commensal Cincinnati Facebook page here to see upcoming events or suggest one of your own.

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